One of the basics of Christianity taught in the Word of God – The Bible; is the fact that there will be a resurrection of all the dead. That was confirmed by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” <1 Cor 15:12-19 NIV >
However, as we study this subject it is important to understand that not all the dead are raised at the same time, since we find that there has already been a partial resurrection of believers: “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” <Matt.27:52-53 NIV>. Two other resurrections are still in the future and will be different in respect to who will be raised, and when. These are referred to in the scriptures as “those that will be raised to life everlasting”; and “those that will be raised to condemnation” <see Jn.5:28-29; Dan.12:2>.
In Luke 14:14 our Lord speaks of the “resurrection of the righteous” which is a reference to the first resurrection only <cf 1 Cor.15:22-23; 1 Thess.4:13-16>. Paul in his letter to the Philippians writes: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection …… becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” <Phil.3:10-11 NIV>; and his reference to “the resurrection from the dead” does not imply that all the dead are raised simultaneously for he does not say the “resurrection of the dead”, indicating that some of the dead will remain in that state.
“…. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” <Rev.20:4-6 NIV>; in this passage we see the first resurrection of the righteous and the outcome it will have on those that attain to this event: they will reign with Christ and will not be overcome by the second death.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” <Rev.20:11-15 NIV>; this passage describes the second resurrection of “those that will be raised to condemnation” and note here that the condemnation will be “the second death” which takes place when such are “thrown into the lake of fire.” An examination of the details of these two resurrections will also indicate the time between the two events which is 1000 years.
In conclusion, it is clear that the “dead in Christ” or believers in Christ who die before Christ’s coming in the air will be raised from the dead and will be caught up to meet Him in the air one thousand years before “those that will be raised to condemnation” <see 1 Thess.4:16-17>; and that the doctrine of the resurrection concerns only the bodies of the dead, no matter what the state of decay may be, they will be raised either to glory or anguish <cf Lk.16:22-24; 2 Cor.5:8; Phil.1:23>.
THE FIVE JUDGMENTS
In the study of this subject one must be careful of the term “general judgment” that is used by some writers; this term is not scriptural and neither is the theory conceived in the scriptures. The event of Rev.20:11-14 should not be considered as one great event that takes place at the end of the age comprising all people of the earth – saints and sinners. The scriptures speak of five judgments that differ in four respects: the individuals; the location; the time; the consequence.
- The Believer in Christ: these have had their sins judged at the Cross of Christ when He paid the penalty of sin (AD 30) <see Jn.19:17-18; 1 Pet.2:24; 3:18; Gal.3:13; 2 Cor.5:21; Heb.1:3; 9:26; Rom.8:1; Jn5:24>.
- The Judgment of Sin in the Believer: this can take place at any time and in any place, and results in discipline by our Lord if the believer fails to assess himself/herself <see 1 Cor.11:31-32; Heb.12:7; 1 Pet.4:17; (cf. 1 Cor.5:5; 2 Sam.7:14-15; 12:13-14; 1 Tim.1:20)>.
- The Conduct (deeds) of the Believer: this will take place at the coming of Christ in the air, resulting in a reward or loss to the believer, but whatever the result, the believer will be saved. Every action, thought and word of the believer will be reviewed by our Lord <see 2 Cor.5:8-10; Rom.14:10-12; 1 Cor.3:11-15>. The time of this judgment is also given <see Matt16:27; Lk.14:14; 1 Cor.4:5; 2 Tim.4:8>; and the place is also given <see 1 Thess.4:17>.
- The Judgment of the Nations: this will occur at the second advent of Christ in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” (a symbolic name for a valley near Jerusalem – NIV Study Bible). The result will be that some are saved and some will be lost, the basis being the treatment of these nations to the remnant of Israel “brothers of mine” <see Matt.13:40-41; 25:40-46; Joel 3:1-2, 12-14>. The judgment of the nations should not be confused with the Great White Throne Judgment <Rev.20:11> compare the following distinctions:
NATIONS: No resurrection; nations judged; on earth; no Record Books. Three groups: sheep; goats; “brothers of mine”. Time: when Christ appears.
GREAT WHITE THRONE: Resurrection; Judgment of “the dead”; earth and sky have “fled from his presence”; Record Books opened. One group: “the dead”. Time: after Christ has reigned 1000 years. [source: “Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth”; Emmaus Bible School]. Since the believers (saints) are partnered with Christ in this judgment they cannot be the subjects <1 Cor.6:2; cf. Dan.7:22; Jude 14-15>.
- The Judgment of the Wicked Dead: will be on a set day after the Millennium, and will take place before the Great White Throne; the result being “eternal damnation” <see Acts 17:31; Rev.20:5, 7, 11, 15>. The scriptures also refer to a judgment of angels <see 1 Cor.6:3; 2 Peter.2:4; Jude 6>.
The word “day” <see Acts 17:31; Rom.2:16> may be confusing to some, but it simply means a length of time or period of time <see 2 Pet.3:8; Jn.8:56>; and the word “hour” (“time”) <Jn.5:25> has now lasted over 2000 years.
The resurrection of the dead is certain; for as we have seen from the scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ taught this to His disciples, and the apostles spoke of this in their documents to the Churches. It is also a promise to all believers in Christ <Jn.14:2-3> and a warning to unbelievers <Jn.14:5-6; 20:29, 31; 3:15>. As certain as the resurrection is, so also are the Judgments. The purpose of Christ’s first advent was to bring salvation to a world of sinners through His death on the cross, and all who reject Him and His offer of salvation will pay the penalty of such rejection, and there will be no exceptions <Jn.3:17; 5:24; 12:47-48; Rom.8:1; 9:28>.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” <Heb.10:26-31 (NIV)>